Dave Smith
Jubilee+ Statement on the New Plan for Immigration

Statement on behalf of Jubilee+ on the immigration proposals outlined by the Home Secretary Priti Patel on March 24th 2021

As a Christian charity supporting churches across the UK to engage in social action projects on behalf of the most vulnerable in society, and trying to address issues of social injustice, we are deeply concerned by the immigration proposals outlined by the Home Secretary Priti Patel in her speech to parliament on March 24th 2021.

While it would take many pages of comments to deal with these concerns in detail, these are the main reasons why these proposals are both morally wrong and also ultimately damaging to the reputation of the United Kingdom.

We welcome the news that the government intends to continue and increase resettlement programmes, but this must not be at the expense of those who have made their own way to the United Kingdom to seek sanctuary. While we will continue to encourage churches to commit to sponsoring refugees through the Community Sponsorship programme, we will not stop welcoming and supporting those who have arrived by illegal means. Those who work with people seeking asylum in the UK know that often the only way to escape repressive governments is to do so on false documents and through people smugglers, since there are no safe routes available to them. Even if there are refugee camps in neighbouring countries, these are not safe havens for religious minorities and LGBT+ people. That is why less than 1% of Syrians resettled under the VPRS scheme are Christian, despite the fact that around 20% of Syrians identify as Christian. In Q1 of 2018 the Times reported that out of 1,112 resettled, not a single one was Christian.

We are particularly concerned by the Home Secretary saying “For the first time, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.

We will deem their claim as inadmissible, and make every effort to remove those who enter the UK illegally having travelled through a safe country first in which they could and should have claimed asylum.”

This contravenes Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention 1951, of which the UK is a signatory. It states “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of Article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”

Those entering illegally must therefore have the opportunity to present their case fully and with legal representation before any punitive action is contemplated.

It is also untrue that those seeking asylum must do so in the first safe country. There is no mention of this in the UN convention. Many come to the UK because of family ties, the ability to speak English, lengthy waits to be processed in other countries that have far more asylum applications that the UK to deal with, or simply because of the UK’s reputation for fairness and welcoming refugees. While it is true that the Dublin Convention requires asylum seekers to register in the first country they come to in Europe, the UK is no longer part of the EU, therefore no longer in the Dublin Convention. It is very unlikely therefore that asylum seekers will be accepted back in those countries in the future, especially if they are already receiving far more applications than the UK.

Most of all we believe that the proposals do not address the real issues with the current asylum system. They deal with the symptoms rather than the causes, and will therefore not make the system fairer, even if it is firmer. Ms Patel mentioned the backlog of asylum cases, but this is not caused by a huge influx of illegal entrants. Numbers in 2020 were down on previous years at around 32,000. The Coronavirus pandemic certainly played a role, as face to face asylum interviews and asylum appeals were cancelled and online interviews rolled out very slowly. However the main causes of the backlog are rather –

  1. The high number of wrong initial decisions. Given that 40% of initial refusals are currently overturned on appeal, and that appeals are lengthy and time-consuming, putting more resources into getting the initials decision right would immediately reduce waiting times and the cost to the taxpayer. Being able to see your solicitor before the substantive interview would aid this immeasurably.
  2. The burden on caseworkers. Caseworkers are currently required to make on average one determination per working day. When this is a decision that affects someone’s whole life, it needs to be right. There is a high turnover of caseworkers, mainly due to burnout. Recruiting new, young caseworkers with little experience of the world results in incorrect decisions when there is pressure to deliver. Additional recruitment would lessen the burden, allow more time for decision making and lead to less appeals.

Although there is much more that could be said, it would not be right to conclude without mentioning those whose claims have been refused at appeal, but have not left the country voluntarily. People from churches and other organisations who have supported, accommodated and advocated on behalf of refused asylum seekers will all testify to the resilience and character of many of those they have got to know. With the right legal and moral support many have gone on to obtain evidence to support their case, which has led to them eventually being granted refugee status – sometimes after many years living in limbo. If the proposals outlined by the Home Secretary are implemented, these people would have been sent back to their countries of origin, where they would have been subjected to imprisonment, torture and perhaps death.

As Christians we believe that it is better to err on the side of compassion when dealing with issues of justice. Wrongly granting asylum to someone who is not a genuine refugee is far preferable to refusing asylum to someone who has a genuine case, just as acquitting a criminal is preferable to hanging an innocent man. We therefore urge the Home Secretary to rethink these proposals and treat those entering the UK illegally to seek asylum with equal compassion to those who are brought here legally from refugee camps.